I booked this cruise through my favorite online site only 5 weeks in advance of our departure. Although the price I paid was a bit higher than I am used to, the $799pp fare, with $200pp in taxes, for a 14 night cruise to Alaska, was still fairly reasonable. (even though some on board paid close to HALF that fare!) The $500 of OBC did make it QUITE satisfying. ($250 for Retired Military and $250 for Carnival Stockholder)
Flew to Seattle (vice Vancouver) due to SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper airfare from the US Midwest. It also allowed me to spend a day with two of my kids who reside near Seattle. After touring the Boeing Aircraft Factory, we spent a very reasonably priced ($84 through Hotels.com) night at the SEATAC Ramada. (the free transfers both to and from the airport were easy and fast)
The Princess Shuttle Service between SEATAC airport and Vancouver ($49pp) was reasonably priced, as well as easy, friendly, fast and efficient. Passage through the US/Canadian border was MUCH quicker (less than ONE FOURTH the normal time) due to transparent-to-us procedures by Princess.
Embarkation was absolutely UNBELIEVABLE. From stepping off the bus in the terminal, to stepping on the ship, took exactly 12 minutes! I didn't think such a thing was possible! Granted, we were some of the last people to board, only a couple of hours before sail away, but still... WOW!
From the pier, Diamond Princess is a BEAUTIFUL and impressive looking ship. Clean, bright white paint, well maintained, with sleek aerodynamic lines.
As a science fiction fan I am absolutely tickled by the visual similarities between the larger Princess ships, and a "Star Wars" Imperial Star Destroyer! The horizontal gap between the upper and lower halves of the forward hull, along with the bridge windows above, is just too coincidentally cool!
Inside, the ship is very nice. The central atrium is visually impressive in a sleek and contemporary fashion, (in line with that of a Celebrity S class) while the rest of the ship is more just "warm, relaxing, and comfortable." The only negative I noticed here, was a feeling of what seemed like VERY LOW ceilings, especially in the Theatre.
Our inside room (C221) on deck 10 (Caribe) was spotlessly clean, comfortable, and efficiently laid out, with adequate storage. (similar to Celebrity M class) The "closet" and vanity form a "privacy wall" between the bedroom and bathroom areas, which is quite nice, as opposed to stepping out of the bathroom directly into the bedroom. The only negatives here, were a somewhat too hard bed, (even with an extra foam topper) and a standard shower curtain that wants to stick to you. (instead a shower door) Our Room Steward, (Thanks Sherman!) was possibly the best ever, professional, yet friendly, attentive and efficient. He received an extra tip at the end of the cruise.
We chose "any time" as opposed to traditional dining. Having the choice of multiple (4) smaller dining rooms as opposed to a single large MDR (as with Celebrity) was GREAT! Even though they all served the same food, off the same menus, from the same galley, the reduced noise level, and options in décor and ambiance was a welcome and much enjoyed change. We visited each at least once, and found the Santa Fe our favorite for a more relaxed feel, and the Savoy for a more formal setting. Vivaldi and Pacific Moon just didn't hold our interest. A fifth restaurant was only for traditional diners.
We never even bothered to try the two specialty dining venues, as the food in all of the MDRs was great! The menus were on a 7 day rotation so we experienced everything twice. (as opposed to a 14 day rotation, I believe, on Celebrity) The lobster-and-prawns were wonderful, and crab legs for appetizers were AWESOME! I don't recall even a mediocre meal. Service was near flawless at its worst, to FABULOUS at its best!
Breakfasts and lunches were always at the buffet, and the food was great! Made to order omelets were fantastic. The serving areas however, were very tight, and quite congested. The selection of foods was not as varied, but the SERVICE at the buffet, was FAR above Carnival, NCL, and even Celebrity, and I was THOROUGHLY impressed.
The poolside grill was not quite as good as X, but the pizza was FAR superior! I did miss the multiple flavors of homemade ice cream offered by Celebrity, but there was always more than enough soft serve ice cream sundaes available, that it will be MONTHS working off the over-indulgences!
Speaking of which, the ONLY area in which I found Princess to be significantly lacking, was the gym. FARRR too small, with nowhere NEAR enough types and numbers of fitness machines. A serious flaw that should be addressed for younger/more health conscious cruisers.
I can't for the life of me, remember the name of the party band on board, but they were GREAT FUN! They did a "50s and 60s sock hop night," and a REALLY cool "British Invasion" night, along with some classic rock as well as 70s and 80s disco. They played fantastic music that had a HUGE number of people of all ages, from 40s through 70 dancing non stop. UNFORTUNATELY they never played LONG enough. VERY short sets of sometimes as few as 6 or 7 songs, then they'd take a break and you could FEEL the energy evaporate as did the crowds. Minor changes to scheduling could EASILY take care of this. The BEST part was a "New Years Eve Party" in the atrium, complete with an overhead net, full of balloons that were dropped at "midnight" (really about 1030!) 300-500 people having a GREAT time with GREAT music.
Yet another name I can't remember, was that of a solo pianist who played at the "Crooners" venue in the main atrium almost every night and was incredibly entertaining. The heart and soul that he poured into his version of "Do you know what It means to miss New Orleans" was nothing short of PURE MAGIC.
Movies Under The Stars, (or Sun or Fog!) is not my idea of how time on a cruise should be spent, but it was actually quite enjoyable during some "down time" with a couple of recently released science fiction titles.
Calving glaciers, whales, Orcas, otters, eagles, bears and even mountain goats were all seen on numerous occasions. We had one day of nasty weather while in Skagway on the northbound leg, and two days with some pretty significant fog, but overall the conditions and scenery were ABSOLUTELY *F*A*N*T*A*S*T*I*C*!!!
Ports were Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway and Whittier, with cruises to Glacier Bay, College Fjord, and Hubbard Glacier. As a science geek, I knew the glaciers would be impressive, but I had NO IDEA they would be THAT incredible and awe inspiring! If a similar cruise is NOT on your bucket list...IT SHOULD BE!
Although the full time, on board, Princess Naturalist, was knowledgeable and passionate about his subject matter, his ridiculously over dramatic, sing-song voice was so obnoxious it became not only a HUGE detractor, but a running joke among both passengers and crew. People would actually applaud and/or cheer when he would "sign off from the Bridge." Sorry, but if your JOB is public speaking, you need to be able to speak properly and professionally.
14 Nights went by far, FAR, F-A-R too quickly, but debarkation back in Vancouver was as painless, efficient and well executed as any I have seen.
In conclusion, this was an absolutely wonderful cruise and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Princess in general, and Diamond Princess in particular. As a matter of fact, I am already looking at multiple options for future cruises on "Star" to Hawaii, as well as "Island" and "Coral" for the Panama Canal.